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Letter To Edinburgh: Tiernan Douieb

By | Published on Tuesday 6 August 2013

Tiernan Douieb

Regular faces from Festivals past, but who are not here this year, send a letter to the Fringe community via the pages of ThreeWeeks. This time, Tiernan Douieb, who enjoyed his year off so much last August, he’s doing it again this year. And here he explains why…

I love the city of Edinburgh. Its cobbled streets, its seemingly impossible topography that means you’re nearly always going uphill, and its endless supply of giant baked potatoes. But during August I’ve started to fall out of love with it, and for the last two years I’ve actively avoided the Fringe. Last year was just a much-needed break; after seven years of sketch shows, mixed bill shows, kids’ shows and three solo shows, I felt burnt out at the end of Festival 2011, and knew I needed to spend at least one year not spending. Energy or money. But this year it’s more intentional avoidance.

It has become quite clear to me that the Fringe really isn’t the be all and end all that it was once fabled to be. For a start, being away last year meant my bank account stopped hating me. It was pleased I wasn’t spending one whole month not only earning nothing, but also spending thousands and thousands to work harder than normal.

My show deal in 2011 meant that even if I had sold all of my tickets, which I didn’t, I’d still have walked away with nearly £5k of debt. It seems a ridiculous system that a festival which relies on people to perform thanks said people by ensuring they tiptoe towards bankruptcy. There are no other areas of work that reward you for dedication and hard work in such a way. “Well done you’ve cured all your patients, that means you’ll now only lose your house and your car! Well done!”

Why are the costs of performing at the Fringe so high? Well, venue hire has gone up to reflect the increased licence fees from Edinburgh Council and so you pay a lot to live in a cave for a month with no air and a variety of Victorian diseases. Then take into consideration all the costs of the Fringe, from PR to flyering teams to the cost of living, and you realise it’s only people with a lot of financial backing that can feasibly do the Festival. You could do without some of that I suppose, but against 2000 shows a day will anyone notice yours?

There’s the Free Fringe option of course, which removes some of the costs, but you still incur extortionate accommodation fees from locals who let out their flats knowing full well that no-one is willing to pay four times the going London rent like impoverished artists. So increasingly, without a big agent or promoter, or a venue that operates an alternative system like The Stand, Edinburgh has priced out its performers. No, the Fringe was never about making money, but it really shouldn’t be about losing it all either.

Aside from money, it bothers me that Edinburgh is not really a Fringe any more. Shows have to be rehearsed and previewed within an inch of their lives, so they can compete against all the others, hoping that a reviewer they’ve never heard of before will review it, and give them a few stars to stick on a flyer. A Fringe shouldn’t be a competition. It should be about seeing new, experimental, interesting things you might not have heard of. Not telly stars whose tickets cost so much their audiences can only afford to see one show. Or acts whose only stand-out thing is whether or not their coiffured face takes up all of their show poster or not quite.

So why perform at the Fringe at all? Well there are still some who say you could get ‘spotted’. But with acts now able to publish snippets of their work online so easily, is it really the case? Is a whole month of stress and hard work, and all your savings, better than using a fraction of that money to make a well-made sketch on YouTube? Which means, for me, the only reason left for performing at the Fringe is the thrill of making a one hour show, and performing it for a month to interested and intelligent audiences. And that’s something I really do miss. But that’s a very small pro against an essay of cons.

Like I said, I love the city of Edinburgh from September to July. But if it’s to lure me back for August it needs to change a few things and remember who its Fringe is meant to be for.

Oh and travelators up the hills would be nice too. Just a thought.

LINKS: www.tiernandouieb.co.uk